Ontario will be more open to cloud, says head CIO


Federal and provincial governments in this country have been shy about embracing cloud computing.

But a day after Ontario said it will try to cut the size of its government, the province’s corporate chief information officer told IT suppliers it is willing to take a closer a look at infrastructure- and software-as-a-service offerings in both public and private clouds.

“We do a good job” managing Ontario’s custom and proprietary applications, David Nicholl told a meeting Wednesday of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), which represents consultants, system integrators and equipment makers.

“But we could do more to embrace technologies like cloud computing environments to provide access to shared services like enterprise email.”

The province has some 67,000 public servants.

In an interview Nicholl said other “commodity-type” cloud applications would also be looked at. The province already uses Salesforce.com, he added.

On the other hand he also said deciding on whether to accept public cloud applications would be subject to their privacy and security controls.

Certain areas are off limits to cloud providers for privacy and security reasons, he said: Anything that touches the personal data, which would cover information held by the ministries of health, attorney general, solicitor general and the Ontario Provincial Police.

He suggested that the most likely cloud uses from external suppliers would be for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings, where compute services can be turned on and off as needed.

“We’re quite interested in looking at cloud opportunities when we’re looking at quick turn around for short-term for [application] development projects or testing applications,” he said in the interview.

Typically, software as a service providers don’t create applications tailored for governments, he said. That said, “if we could find a drivers [licence] system that was software as a service we’d absolutely look at it,” he added – if it had adequate security.

As for private, or internal, clouds, Nicholl said Ontario wants to learn from the private sector how to leverage the technology to configure it hardware platforms quicker and offer computer services more efficiently to its departments.

Nicholls’ words on cloud computing could be good news to the biggest service suppliers that were in the audience.

The province spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year on IT hardware, software and services.

However, that spending has dropped from 6.6 per cent to 6 per cent of overall provincial expenditures.

In his address to the audience, Nicholl went out of his way to send the message that the province is still a good partner. In times of “fiscal constraint” governments need to focus harder on delivering high quality public services, he said. “Our continued collaboration with the IT sector is essential to moving forward” on that goal.

“Working with you we want to develop the most innovative and competitively priced solutions to meet the needs of our customers.”

In a few months, he added, the province will release a request for information to find out the capabilities of suppliers for unified communications and collaboration services. He didn’t offer any more details.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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